Westport's new school: Steel going up, color scheme debated

School job brings glad cost tidings; masonry, water issues

By Bruce Burdett
Posted 1/10/20

WESTPORT — Steel beams are being hoisted into place and the budget news remains good, but managers of Westport’s school construction project fretted about wells, masonry colors and …

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Westport's new school: Steel going up, color scheme debated

School job brings glad cost tidings; masonry, water issues


WESTPORT — Steel beams are being hoisted into place and the budget news remains good, but managers of Westport’s school construction project fretted about wells, masonry colors and flooding at their last meeting before the new year.

Gathering on December 18, the School Building Committee heard that steel construction would begin the next day. That did indeed happen and, as of last week, much of the steel for the middle school side of the school is up.

“The goal all along was for steel to go up in December” and that goal has been met, said owner’s project manager Dan Tavares.

By around January 11, he said, steel work on the middle school side should be complete and “we’ll be switching over to the high school side.”

With bids in from all non-trade contractors, Mr. Tavares said, costs are better than $1.3 million under the construction budget. The original price ($96,884,896) remains in effect, and that $1.3 million-plus will be added to what he said is now a robust contingency account to cover unexpected costs down the road.

If that money is not needed, it will go back to Westport.

“From where we were six months ago with the budget to where we are now being $1.3 million under the budget — We’ve come a long way and it’s good news,” said Town Planner James Hartnett, a member of the School Building Committee.

After hearing the report, committee members voted their unanimous approval of the Guaranteed Maximum Price.

Well worries

Mr. Tavares reported that the team is exploring several options to deal with the state Department of Environmental Protection’s concern about construction activities taking place near the Westport Elementary School well. When the DEP issued a do-not-disturb order for grounds near that well (an area from which the contractor had hoped to obtain fill), the contractor was forced to truck in over $500,000 worth of replacement fill.

Possibilities for supplemental well water now include, Mr. Tavares said:

• Use of the campgrounds well on property next door;

• Digging a new well at the campgrounds site;

• Adjusting the grade of the playing fields and keeping the Westport Elementary School well involved:

• Or obtaining sufficient water from the new well that has already been drilled for the project — an uncertainty there is what impact drawing from that new well might have on other wells in the vicinity.

Although he and others repeated confidence that there will be plenty of good water for the school, several members expressed concern.

“I have been waiting two years to hear about the well,” committee member Bill Gifford said. “We can’t keep fixing, fixing, fixing.” There is supposed to be an order to such things — “that is why we hired project managers.”

But committee member David Cass said he believes the managers have kept the committee well-informed on the situation and took issue with some of the criticism.

“A lot of things have been said this evening that aren’t the case … “It’s not like we are building a school without a water supply.”

Masonry: ’Light buff,’ not white

Architect Jonathan Levi reported that the white concrete block favored both by him and the project’s design subcommittee for use throughout much of the school’s interior, appears now to be unavailable.

“It cannot be delivered in time in that color,” he said. “We were asked to look at an alternative color.”

Holding up a block of that ‘alternative color,’ he said, “This one is the lightest of the three. The design subcommittee looked at it and said, ‘That’s a little darker than we’d like it to be,’ and I certainly agree with that.”

Committee member Nancy Stanton-Cross put it more strongly.

“That’s ugly,” she said. “It’s so penitentiary … This is such a huge part of the building.”

Fortunately, Mr. Levi said, it seems that this shade comes in lighter variants — he pointed to one that he said he finds considerably more attractive; “I would call it a light buff.” This shade, he added, is available at a “slight premium” of about $30,000.

Ms. Stanton-Cross agreed, saying the lighter shade “makes me feel better.”

The committee was told that, since many of these blocks will be structural in nature, a decision needs to be made immediately or risk a costly project delay. Another issue is the desire to keep the present masonry contractor from backing out on its low bid which was $500,000 less than the next lowest bidder.

Committee members voted unanimously to seek out that alternative masonry shade at an extra cost not to exceed $40,000.

Silty runoff

The meeting opened once again with remarks from neighbor Cynthia Anderson about continued issues with water runoff from the project site onto properties downhill, including hers. (The committee restricts audience member statements to the start of meetings.)

She said she was told at the last meeting that she would receive a written response to her concerns “and it never came. I never had any contact. It’s always ‘We’ll get back to you,’ but it never happens.”

“It’s almost like illegal,” she added. You are legally bound not to drain onto neighboring property.”

Later, Mr. Tavares told the committee that, faced with a series of heavy rainstorms, the contractor has taken a number of steps including additional silt fences, hay bales, jersey barriers and stone check dams.

The most recent 2 inch storm “had significantly less silt leave the site. There have definitely been some improvements since the first (storm). 

There will be an ongoing effort for the duration of the project,” he said.

“I think the contractor has done a heck of a job,” committee member Antone Vieira Jr. said, but, “I don’t

agree that there has been significantly less silt. “I think you tried, I don’t think most contractors would have done what you did. It’s very impressive but it’s not doing the job.”

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